Groote Schuur

17 Sep

Groote Schuur (Dutch for “big barn”) is the official residence of the President of South Africa.

Groote Schuur

The estate sits on a plot of land originally owned by the Dutch East India Company.  Later Cecil Rhodes bought the estate for 60,000 pounds and made it his official residence. When he died he willed Groote Schuur to his beloved South Africa.

The estate is sited  on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, the outlying shoulder of Table Mountain.

Nestled near Devil’s Peak

Rhodes redesigned the house in the 1890s to be a premier example of Cape Dutch architecture  with its characteristic gabled  facades and details.

Main Entrance

Cape Dutch architecture

Cape Dutch architecture is a style found only in the Western Cape of South Africa. The style has its roots in the early days (17th century) of the Cape Colony, and comes from the initial settlers of the Cape who were primarily Dutch.

Houses in this ‘settler architecture’ style have a distinctive and recognisable design, with a prominent feature being the grand, ornately rounded gables, reminiscent of features in townhouses of Amsterdam. The houses are also usually H-shaped, with the front section of the house being flanked by two wings running perpendicular to it. This shape is not found anywhere else on earth.

Chimney detail

Gutter detail

Frieze showing landing of Dutch in Cape Town

Front gallery

Cape Dutch building style

The interior of the house is very much built to human scale.  It is liveable and modest compared to the opulence and frippery of much 1890 era interiors.

Rhode’s library

Rhodes did not particularly care for women and lived most of his life in the rough environment of mining camps. That spartan aesthetic extended to his living spaces. His bedroom is an example of his simple lifestyle within the walls of Groote Schuur.

Rhode’s spartan bedroom

One exception to his plain lifestyle was his bathtub, carved from a solid block of granite and weighing six tons.  When it was installed it had to be lifted into place using a crane.

Us with Rhode’s bath tub

Rhodes was somewhat of an Imperialist. He always hoped Queen Victoria would visit South Africa in his lifetime.  The Cape to Cairo flag hung over his bed representing Rhode’s hope for a railroad that would run the length of the continent and join the holdings of the British Empire in Africa.

Cape to Cairo flag of the British Empire

Our guide

On private tours like the one we took of Groote Schuur a professional tour guide makes all of the difference.  The expertise and detailed descriptions of the house, its architecture and the history of its owner and contents came alive with the narrative provided by our docent. The estate is very private and high security as President Jacob Zuma and his family live in another residence on the grounds.  We were lucky enough to enter the grounds and be accompanied by our knowledgeable guide.   We wish every tour could be a fine as the one we experienced at Groote Schurr.

Reminder:  Remember to post blog comments to have a chance to win the fabulous South Africa apron. See the “Go for the Gold” post for details. Every comment has one chance to win. The more you post, the greater your chances. Drawing is Sunday, September 23rd.

2 Responses to “Groote Schuur”

  1. Ursula Freer September 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Wonderful photos, one gets a sense of the “imperialist” mindset of those days. That bathtub and all the marble still does not make the room inviting. You guys look great!
    Your beautiful guide looks Indian or Pakistani. BTW I don’t need any more aprons!

    • Jill September 19, 2012 at 4:36 am #

      Rhodes was an interesting contradiction in that he loved South Africa and the country that would later be called Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) where he is buried. Yet he is known and remembered for supporting the British empire. I am sorry I was not able to provide our guide’s name. I will call this week to see if I can reach her. That may be a clue to her background.

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